Unusual Things in the Lives of the Saints
I am writing this without doing reference work. These accounts are in my memory, having read many books on the saints, including Father Alvin Butler’s magnum opus: short, but sometimes not so short, biographies for every saint for every day of the year. His work must have taken a lifetime. Saint John Chrysostom takes the prize for Father Butler’s longest entry: forty pages, two columns per page, and that’s the old edition with the small print.
The brief accounts in this article will not be in chronological order.
I begin with Saint Francis Xavier.
Tongues and then Some
Called the greatest apostle after Saint Paul, Saint Francis Xavier baptized three hundred thousand pagan converts with his own hand. All together they estimate that he was responsible for converting some three million pagans in his ten tears in the East. One miracle performed through his intercession, and related during his canonization process by an eyewitness, involved a lot of angels. You see, at times he was given the gift of tongues and at times he was not. With the Japanese, for instance, he was not given this gift. In fact, he had to rely on a Jesuit Brother who knew Japanese to do his talking. But with the Indians of Fishery coast he was often so gifted. On one occasion a huge crowd was present for some festivity from many parts of that huge country and the saint came to the festival and began to preach to them. He probably spoke in Hindi (Kokani) or Tamil because he had a basic knowledge of these languages. As he spoke, the people who had their own numerous dialects all understood him in their native tongue. And that’s not all! People were fascinated with his message and they began shouting out varied questions. Saint Francis understood the questions and answered them all to their utter astonishment. And that’s not all! As he answered one question the angels took over and did some tampering with the air waves. As he spoke, his voice waves gave multiple answers to multiple questions simultaneously. Such was the testimony by eyewitnesses, or I should say, earwitnesses.
The Pious Crab
Then there’s the story of the crab. This was witnessed by many as well and it was accepted as a miracle at the canonization process. On a voyage at sea, somewhere in the south Pacific, a ferocious storm threatened the lives of all on board. The saint tossed his crucifix into the raging waters and prayed for calm and the wind stopped and the waves subsided. Sadly, though, the great missioner lost his crucifix. Or, so he thought. As he and some of the sailors were walking along the beach some time shortly afterwards, a crab greeted them holding the crucifix in its claws.
Jumping Over a Wall
Saint John of the Cross, doctor of the Church, and reformer of the Carmelites, was once imprisoned for nine months by his own Order’s friars who objected to some of the reform work of the saint. But they were not really bad men at all. Issues of obedience had led to the confusion, putting the reformers against the moderates, and bishops supporting both sides. By divine inspiration, Saint John decided that he should make an escape. The plans required sowing sheets together and climbing out a small window and loosening screws on a padlock. Yes, those were the days when religious men did rather strange things to each other! (I won’t get distracted here with the story of how Saint Francis de Sales had to bring peace to a troubled Augustinian monastery where some of the monks had actually planned to poison a superior whom they considered too strict) Well, Friar John made it to the ground from his cell, but there was a problem he had not considered. The wall! The monastery was enclosed by a twelve foot wall with a locked gate. What did the saint do? He jumped over the wall. “For by thee I shall be delivered from temptation; and through my God I shall go over a wall” (Psalm 17:30).
We Shall Have Duck
Saint Theresa of Avila, his Carmelite co-reformer, had more support. No miracle to report here. But was she ever a character! She actually had the gumption to complain to Our Lord about the way He was treating her. She said to God: “If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.” On a certain feast day (probably her favorite, Saint Joseph) Saint Theresa told the cook to prepare duck for dinner. I cannot remember what feast day it was, but it was not Easter. And having duck was contrary to their habitual life of abstinence. The obedient sister in the kitchen served the delicacy. Some of the sisters looked mortified. The saint could see their expressions. and, reading their thoughts, she boldly proclaimed: “My sisters, today is a great feast day, and on this feast day, we shall henceforth eat duck.” She may have even let her fist pound the table as she accented each word.
The Comical Saint
Then, there is always Saint Philip Neri if you want a saint who knew how to lighten things up. He is another one who fills a lot of Father Butler’s pages. One thing Saint Philip did not like was being revered as a saint. Not much he could do about that as everyone in Rome, where he lived, knew he was a saint. His heart beat so powerfully when he was attending Mass that the walls of the church would vibrate. And his own Mass went on for hours because he almost always fell into an ecstasy during consecration. Saint Philip preferred to be looked upon as a fool. Sometimes he would shave half his beard off and go out that way in public. He also had another trick he would use when some curious theologians would come to Rome to “check him out.” For such occasions he kept a comic book in his desk drawer. When two Dutch theologians arrived one day at his quarters for a visit, the saint, knowing that they were coming, pulled out the comic book, and began laughing loudly in his chair as they knocked at his door. “Come in, come in,” he said with a chuckle. They came in, made sure it was Father Neri, and they quickly left. “Nothing to see here, let’s move along.”
The Gruff Saint
Saint Padre Pio was known to be occasionally gruff. One time a pious man (I think he was a priest) came to San Giovanni Rotondo hoping to speak to the stigmatist alone while he was staying a few days at the monastery. Finding an opportunity to do so, he approached the saint in the cloister garden. Padre Pio brushed him off saying: “Can’t you see I am busy!” The poor man, or priest, was terribly hurt and humbly walked away. Sometime later, the holy friar saw him and came up to him apologizing. “Father,” he said, “I am sorry, when you came to me earlier, I was busy receiving many prayer requests from the guardian angels of my children.”
One of the items in the reliquary for Padre Pio at the monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo is a partially melted thermometer. A doctor had used it to take the saint’s temperature when the stigmatist was a young and very sickly priest. It read 114 degrees before starting to melt — and that was as high as the thermometer went.
Pages could be filled with similar stories about Padre Pio.
Congratulations on Your Wounds
World renowned heart specialist, Doctor Paul Dudley White, was converted to the Catholic Faith by Father Feeney. Father used to stop by his home every day in Harvard, Massachusetts, toot the horn, and the doctor, still Episcopalian, would come out and check Father’s pulse while they recited a Hail Mary. Years before this, Doctor White was involved in raising funds for Padre Pio’s Hospital for the Suffering. The doctor was there, in San Giovanni Rotondo, when Padre Pio offered an outdoor Mass in front of the hospital for its opening day. Greeting Padre Pio, the good doctor, was totally clueless what to say to a stigmatist saint. You won’t believe what the tongue-tied doctor said! “Congratulations on your wounds.” That’s the truth. I am trying to picture Padre Pio’s expression upon hearing this. I cannot.
No Salvation Outside the Church
This following story is not for the sentimental. It is hard. Very few, even among traditional Catholics, could handle it. I know they can’t. They have written so and told me so. Without my Faith in the defined dogma, no salvation outside the Church, in its literal sense, I would find what follows unacceptable. That’s because, on my own, without Faith, I would be a sentimentalist, especially regarding Bible-believing Protestants who were not publicly anti-Catholic. In fact, before I came to Saint Benedict Center, my view on the salvation issue was 180 degrees opposite of the Church’s teaching. Of course I did not know during those young years of my life what the Church’s teaching was on the state of soul of sincere non-Catholics. Having accepted the Church’s teaching, all I can do is try to first save my own soul and do my best to at least pray for wayward Catholics and my non-Catholic acquaintances and friends. Well, here is the story. It can be found in the writings of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri. It is, I believe, in The Glories of Mary. If not, then it is in the Preparation for Death.
A young Redemptorist priest in the saint’s community had a conscience problem that he kept to himself. The priest was a Protestant convert. He had always prayed as a Catholic for the salvation of his mother who, as far as he knew, died outside the Church. Of course, this is good, because one can always hope that a baptized non-Catholic made amends with God by renouncing their heresy before death. Notice I said “heresy.” (By the way, as I am sure you know, all children validly baptized, no matter by whom, are baptized Catholic and are members of the Church). The thinking, even among many traditional Catholics, is that someone who was born into a Protestant family and so raised is not guilty of heresy when they come of age because they never really knew the Catholic truth. Their opinion is that such a Protestant, even though they formally reject Catholic truth, is still not a heretic, because they “sincerely” do not know any better. They are in “good faith.” They were taught that way by their parents. Praying for his mother one day this young Redemptorist priest had a terribly frightening visit from her. She told him to stop praying for her because “she died a heretic and was damned.”
This is why Saint Peter Julian Eymard wrote that “it is better to be a bad Catholic than a good Protestant.” A bad Catholic, he said, “was still a member of the family and can more easily come home like the prodigal son.” Tough lessons, to be sure.